By Kavita Bajeli-Datt
RAIPUR, India, 23 May 2016 - Bharti Gaherwal, 15, is shy and quiet while Aartie Rawte, 11, is chirpy. Their contrasting demeanour hides their heroic feat. The two girls from Chhattisgarh have scripted history by making their village ‘open defecation free’.Bharti and Aartie took the initiative to build toilets in their homes, setting off a chain reaction that turned into a movement.
Thirty-two children from the Rajnandgaon district of Chhattisgarh are now being hailed as ‘Champions of Team Swachh’ for halting the age-old practice of defecating in the open. This May 21, these faceless young crusaders got an opportunity of a lifetime. One of India’s cricketing greats, Rahul Dravid—now mentor of the Indian Premier League (IPL) team, Delhi Daredevils—had a freewheeling interaction with the children.
Dravid was accompanied by IPL team mates Mayank Agarwal, J.P Duminy, Imran Tahir, Rishabh Pant, Ian Bishop and the Delhi Daredevils CEO, Hemant Dua. The interaction was organised under Delhi Daredevils’ and UNICEF’s 'Dare To Care' campaign to empower girls in India.
For a change, the popular cricketers took a backseat and heard the inspiring stories narrated by the children. Dravid was visibly spellbound as the children told him how they started the movement against open defecation and contributed in the national campaign of Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (Clean India Campaign), the country’s biggest sanitation drive till date that aims to eradicate open defecation by October 2, 2019, when the nation celebrates Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary.
Dravid described the group of children—11 boys and 21 girls from five villages—as a source of inspiration for everyone. “They are our young social representatives. If they can do it then it is our responsibility to support them,” he said.
“I am here as part of Delhi Daredevils and we totally support Team Swachh. I congratulate UNICEF and government of Chhattisgarh for this fantastic campaign of building a toilet, which impacts the lives of so many people, especially girls,” Dravid further said, adding that he was also concerned about girls being married off before the age of 18 years and face violence. “I am proud of this campaign and equally proud that we are part of this campaign.”
Sonmani Borah, Secretary, Department of Women and Child Development, Government of Chhattisgarh, said that with Delhi Daredevils being associated with the campaign launched by the children, especially adolescent girls, he was encouraged and hopeful that the Clean India Mission launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi would achieve its target. The task is humongous. In two years, 2,000 villages in Chhattisgarh have “turned open defecation free”. It is a humble though laudable beginning as the state alone has over 50,000 villages. M. K. Raut, Additional Chief Secretary, Government of Chhattisgarh, addressed the group as “young soldiers” and hoped that the children will be inspired by Dravid, who was hailed as “The Wall” of Indian batting line-up.
“Children, whatever problems come in your way don’t get defeated. Be like Dravid. Stand like a wall and no one will be able to defeat you from your mission of Swachh Bharat,” he said. As Dravid heard the children out, he was also keen to know how they convinced their parents to build toilets and how the movement spread to the villages.
The ace cricketer also faced some unexpected volleys. Anju Kotale, 17, literally stumped him by asking, “What is your name?” which Dravid humbly obliged. He, however added, that what they were doing—studying and leading a movement—was clearly more important than knowing who he was, and this made them the true champions. Thrilled at his response, Anju recalled how a team of Jal Kalyan Samajik Sansthan visited their village Hirawahi two years ago and explained the need to construct toilets in every household. The message was eagerly absorbed by the children of the village who convinced their parents to build toilets.
“Now, each household in the village has a toilet. There is also a community toilet so that visitors or relatives who come to our village could use it,” said Anju. “Some of my relatives who come to our house had never seen a toilet. So I taught them how to use it. Moreover, I told them that they should also build a toilet in their house as it helps in getting rid of diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid,” said the girl who studies in Class XII. For Aartie, it was exciting to speak to South African spinner Imran Tahir for over an hour.
“I didn’t know who he was, so I asked him his name. He was very nice. He asked me about my work. So I told him that my house was the first one to have a toilet in my village and how that inspired the entire village to build toilets.”
“I also told him that I am part of the ‘nigrani samiti’ (vigilance committee) and how we keep a watch on people who don’t use a toilet. So when he wanted to know whether we have caught anyone, I told him that we caught a woman who was trying to sneak out early in the morning. The woman, who felt embarrassed about the episode, had to shell out Rs. 551 as fine,” Aartie laughed as she recalled the episode. Aarti also showed Imran Tahir her photograph on the campaign banner along with her father Bhola Ram and her younger brother Ashish.
“After talking to me, he (Imran Tahir) asked me what I wanted to become when I grew up. I told him that I wanted to be a doctor,” the young girl, whose father builds toilets, beamed with happiness.
Bharti, who shared her story of how she fearlessly stood before the entire village and made an emotional plea to her father to build a toilet in her house as she felt embarrassed to go out in the open to defecate, got the loudest round of applause for her heroic act.
She said that her father was so moved by that episode that he built the toilet in two days. Noha Singh, 20, shared with Dravid how difficult it was in the beginning to convince the villagers to use the toilet.
“We had formed committees that would go out at 4 A.M. and then at night to catch those who were not using toilets. Each committee had a whistle, and if anyone was caught (not using the toilet), the whistle would be blown loudly,” said the young boy from Salhetola village, who later asked Dravid for an autograph.
“The whistle used to be heard every time someone was caught. That was two years ago. The entire village understood that they would be boycotted and fined if they didn’t use the toilet. Now, the whistle is silent,” he proudly said.
Kanchan Kureti is the youngest girl in Team Swachh. She doesn’t speak much, but the class- IV student said that girls in Dhobni village now don’t have to face the same difficulties as they would earlier—of coming across boys, their fathers and uncles and face embarrassment, or the risk of venturing out in the rain and stepping on poisonous snakes, rattlesnakes or scorpions.
Jhaneswari, 14, said that now girls of their village find out whether the house they would get married to has a toilet or not, and agree to the alliance only if it has one. “If they find out that they don’t have a toilet then they ask their in-laws that before they get married they should build one. This was not so two years back.”